As you know, I work in a Kafkaesque world of meaningless bureaucracy. My job often feels like an endless line of Sisyphean tasks. It's an absurd way to spend the best hours of most days of the week. This much I know.
Except sometimes it's not.
Today I got to spend the day in a 75 acre allotment tucked away in the middle of one of the most deprived urban areas in the UK. The St Anns Allotments are the oldest and largest area of Victorian detached town gardens in the world and have recently been listed with a Grade 2* by English Heritage. It's a completely unexpected island of rural tranquility in the middle of a city, filled with mature deciduous trees and birdsong. It's lovely.
Instead of sitting at my desk tapping out emails or in frustrating meetings drinking coffee, I got to get up into some scruffy clothes and a pair of work boots and head over to the Framework plot at the allotments. Framework is a charity that aims to tackle the causes and consequences of homelessness. They run a "Gateway to Nature" programme in Nottingham:
"Gateway to Nature is a project open to people living in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, over the age of 18, who are disadvantaged by barriers such as a lack of information, social isolation, loss of confidence or health or transport problems.
- We provide opportunities to access green and natural spaces and aim to help people overcome the barriers they may face in getting into and enjoying nature.
- Activities we provide include walking, conservation, wildlife spotting, growing food, arts and crafts in nature, and drumming outdoors, to name a few.
- Getting out into nature is proven to be of benefit in reducing depression and anxiety and helping people to progress in their recovery."
I spent most of my day turning over raised beds and planting various plants and seeds - courgettes, potatoes, basil, sage, strawberries, squashes of various kinds... all sorts of stuff. Some of the other guys in my team helped to put up a wood framed greenhouse. As well as getting our hands dirty, we also just spent some time hanging out with some of the guys who were there. We didn't really get into the nuts and bolts of why they were there, but many of them were clearly on the road back to recovery from various illnesses and breakdowns, and it was great to just chat with them and work together with them in the simple task of getting the garden ready for summer. I chatted with Carl - a Derby County fan - about how appalling my football team is at the moment and we worked together to plant and water in some strawberry plants. He's been in and out of hospital and is recovering from a breakdown. When he was initially asked if he fancied coming down to the allotment, he wasn't sure what it was all about, but he clearly finds it relaxing and has been coming every week, all through the winter. Whether it's the fresh air, the open spaces, the simple therapy of gardening, the company or a combination of all of the above, it clearly works. It was a real pleasure to meet him and to see how something as simple as this has been such a positive influence in his life.
Although I'm hoping to go back, the chances are that I won't get to see or to taste the fruits of our labours. At the end of the day though, that's not that important. It's just nice to get out of the office and to feel like I've done something genuinely useful with my day. For once. You know what? After days like yesterday, it's also nice to know that things like this exist and that people can be amazing to each other.
I hope we've helped, even if only a little bit. (I also got to break in my new Glastonbury boots a bit more. Only three months to go now, you know...)